This month marked my 5-year anniversary as a Magic Judge, and it has caused me to get a little introspective. I wanted to write this piece to describe how I have managed to balance judging with a personal life that includes a wife and two young children, as well as a career. This is a topic I have heard more and more about as I’ve been in the program longer, and while it poses some serious challenges, it also has some really amazing benefits.
Magic: The Indulgence
I have been playing Magic on and off since the tail end of Beta, and it has always provided a nice social escape for me. I was always a fan of high fantasy, and was a collector of things (comics, cards, even fantasy statues) basically as long as I can remember. When I found Magic, it was such a perfect blend of collecting, fantasy, and gameplay that I was instantly hooked, like so many of my friends.
Fastforward many years, and we’d just had our first child. As much as we loved our new son, my wife and I realized we needed to plan a little distraction each weekend, so we started inviting friends over for some tabletop gaming. One night, I casually mentioned that I had some old precons to see if our friends would be interested in trying out this game. Turns out, one of those friends had played previously, and the others got hooked quickly. What started as an occasional game night became weekly trips to our local game store to play FNM.
The value of having a social event to look forward to when you are a parent and work full-time cannot be understated. FNM became a focus, and I’d brew all week in preparation. Getting to be out of the house slinging cards for a few hours was absolutely essential to my sanity, and I thank my wife still for the flexibility that allowed me this luxury. It became more than a game, more than a competition. It was a break from the routine, and that had profound importance to me. And ultimately, I think it helped me to be a better husband and father.
Magic: The Teaching Tool
Magic is an incredibly deep game, with a huge number of moving pieces. Learning Magic requires some fundamental skills in reading, mathematics, social interaction, and even art appreciation (not as “required” but still a big part of the game). Magic Judging, on top of that, provides a route to teaching a great many life lessons as well, from personal responsibility, to leadership and accountability concepts.
Many of the people skills from judging have direct application to the workplace as well. Magic judging can be a balancing act between many spheres of one’s life, but one with huge rewards, both personally and also to the young people in our lives who look to us for example.
It’s been described many times in many places, but gaming in different forms can be a great learning experience for children. Magic, in particular, offers some really fundamental skills wrapped in a fun addictive package that has kids (and adults, let’s be real) coming back again and again for more.
In order to really play the game, kids first need to begin learning to read and understand some basic math. This is a huge incentive, as having to have someone else read your cards to you can get cumbersome. Once they gain the basics of reading and can begin to recognize card art and shortcut some of the “learning,” they can begin to appreciate some of the more elegant strategic thinking that is involved: sequencing plays, timing actions, responding to the moves of others, and even bluffing. On top of that–and really one of the main reasons I ever started collecting these cards–the art is gorgeous, and can lead to an appreciation of different artistic styles and moods.
When my oldest son first became interested in what I was doing with all these thousands of cards, I got a few of the introductory 30-card decks from a local store. I then played him with those here and there before combining them into two-color, 60-card decks to use. Those first games had a lot of pauses where he would go to attack, and I would have to stop and ask him to work out my possible blocks, and to figure out which creatures would live and which would die based on those moves. Lots of “this has 2 power … and that has 3 toughness, so … please don’t block there?” moments. It took a surprisingly short amount of time before he grasped the math and strategy and could determine optimal combat math on his own. Magic also boasts some pretty esoteric word choices, and watching a him sound out words like “Visionary” and “Berserker,” was almost as much fun as watching him read a storybook. In a storybook, you have context to figure it out most of the time, so cards become slightly more challenging for this, but also rewarding.
These lessons are useful regardless of if the children in your life are your own. They might be the kids at your LGS. They may be your nieces and nephews who want to understand what it is you do with this game. It may even be useful to know these points to help sell parents on teaching their own children.
Magic: The Life Lessons
Obviously, being an active judge does take me from the house a few times a month, and my kids know why I go and have visited me while I’m judging. They understand that my service helps others to have a fun time in a well-run, fair environment. I have had discussions about responsibility to a community, and how dedication to something can have significant rewards. There are lessons in self-reflection, how my understanding of my place within the program has evolved, and how that changing perspective can lead to growth and development as a person. On top of that, they have seen me working on projects at home, and I’ve talked with them about broader responsibilities to do work that isn’t paid, but which you do for the betterment of something you love. Along those lines there are teachable moments about follow-through, mentoring, and dedication. I’ve had insights into teaching them about leadership, and how they can apply certain skills to stand out from their peers if they desire.
Basically, every small thing in life can be turned into a lesson for children, which is one of the great joys of interacting with kids. Through Magic judging, I’ve found a wonderful cache of stories and examples to use while illustrating these basic lessons.
Magic: The Professional Development
Balancing all of this while having a high-pressure career isn’t simple either, of course. The best way I’ve personally found to handle this is through careful planning ahead of time. I plan. A LOT. I hope to write about that in the future, but, for me, planning is the only way I can mentally keep everything well organized and moving forward in my busy life.
Knowing that I have to say no to some judging opportunities is hard sometimes, but it is a reality of the many responsibilities I balance. The same is true when I miss a Saturday at the playground, or at the movies, because I have prior obligations to an event. Luckily for me, my job is on a very set schedule, with minimal travel, so I can easily plan out how my schedule will look. I do still need to be flexible in case emergencies need to be addressed, at home or at work, however. Prioritization is important.
As an additional benefit to judging while balancing all of the rest of my life, I get to extend the life lessons I learn through to my professional life. Lessons of leadership, people management, and crisis reaction are all not only teachable for my kids, but learning opportunities for myself. I get more managerial experience through judging than I do in my career. That can pay off when applying those skills elsewhere in life. The lessons gained from self-reflection are also invaluable. Learning through the observation of others where your weaknesses and strengths are is tremendously important, and accepting or altering those characteristics is another skill/lesson that is hard otherwise to learn.
This game has brought me much joy and camaraderie throughout the years, and judging became a natural way for me to continue to offer others the same or similar experiences. It is both highly social for me, as well as tremendously personal. The lessons we all can learn, and therefore the values and experience we can pass on, are beyond value. They are the reason I still judge. Always keep learning, and always be willing to share your knowledge and experience. The younger generation is our future for the game (and everything else).